Visitors were shuffling about the Grandfather Mountain Ballroom of Plemmons Student Union as 5:30 p.m. rolled around on April 9, studying posters that were placed around the room. The posters each examined a case study of climate change in a particular area and the effects that it could have on the locale.
From threatened salmon fisheries in Alaska to increasing sea levels in Bangladesh, about 25 climate-related issues were on display via a climate justice class, giving supplemental information to those who came to see the presentation.
The presentation, called “Addressing Climate Change through Art,” was designed by playwright Chantal Bilodeau with performances sprinkled throughout.
To kick off the presentation, freshmen Rachel Gordon, a theater arts major, and Emily Brandsdorfer, a political science major as well as senior sustainable development major Natalie Willmschen performed a dance routine called “Our Humanity,” choreographed by Willmschen.
The dance, set over “What They Took with Them” by Jenifer Toksvig and “To Build a Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra, was an interpretation of the human aspects of climate change and refugeehood.
After the dance, Bilodeau started to speak. She began the lecture with a graph of arctic ice coverage between the years of 1971 and 2015.
Graphs, Bilodeau said, give you data, but they do not help you actually see and comprehend it. She then showed a visual representation of the same graph on a map in which areas that lost ice coverage were highlighted bright blue. Bilodeau said this representation helped her begin to visualize it, but she still could not picture it in practice.
Then Bilodeau showed a picture of a polar bear balancing on a small piece of ice. Bilodeau said that the picture provided no information, but told a great story, which is what art can do for environmentalism.
“Bringing arts and environment together is super important,” Melanie Murphey, a junior sustainable development major and one of the attendees in the crowd said. “It takes away from the bleak, negative outlook that people have around climate change and environmental issues in general. It gains attention from more people.”
Bilodeau also walked attendees through the background of her organization, The Arctic Cycle, and explained its initiatives. One such initiative is a collection of eight plays that she has been working on for nearly a decade now. There are eight countries within the Arctic Circle, and each play takes place in a different one, highlighting the history, cultures and struggles that each one is facing.
The first play, called “Sila,” is equal parts based on Inuit mythology and modern climate policy, Bilodeau said. Sila is a concept in Inuit culture that means breath, wind and climate. The production is set on Baffin Island in Nunavut, Canada, and follows seven characters through their own stories that ultimately end up converging.
The second play that Bilodeau wrote, “Forward,” is set in Norway. Whereas “Sila” advanced in a linear way, “Forward” consists of two timelines: one that proceeds normally through time as it follows Fridtjof Nansen, a renowned Norwegian explorer, on his quest to reach the north pole in 1893, and another that begins in modern times and works its way backwards, examining different generations in Norway, Bilodeau said. The second storyline jumps backwards in decades, highlighting aspects of Norway’s history before meeting the other timeline at the end of the play.
Bilodeau said that there is not a significant source of funding for Artists & Climate Change, which prevents her from moving very quickly on the plays. She began working on the first in 2009 and has finished “Sila” and “Forward” with another untitled work in progress.
Throughout the presentation, App State theater majors did read throughs of scenes from the scripts of the two finished productions, with two students acting as polar bears from “Sila” and two more playing oil rig workers on Christmas Eve in “Forward.” The shows are not recorded and available for viewing, so the short read throughs served as a brief glimpse into Bilodeau’s finished products.
“This is a part of a greater transition of thinking about art and its relationship to climate issues and whether it can successfully used for activism,” Dustin Hicks, a senior sustainable development major who attended the event, said.
The Arctic Cycle also hosts a blog called Artists & Climate Change, which aims to give artists who work with the environment a platform to speak on as well as a sort of directory to find one another with.
While the performances are not available for viewing as of now, the scripts to “Sila” and “Forward” have been published and are available for purchase online. The Arctic Cycle also has a newsletter that anyone interested in can sign up for that keeps readers posted on the organization’s work and any upcoming performances.
Story by: Mack Foley, Intern Reporter